Brexit a’r Iaith Gymraeg


Along with a great deal of shock and dismay, one thing that struck me about the results of the EU referendum was how well the Remain vote held up in Welsh speaking Wales. In England, the remain vote was concentrated in big cities and prosperous regions – Remain voting Gwynedd and Ceredigion don’t really fit that pattern. We all saw those graphics showing demographic factors that predicted voting in the referendum, can we add Welsh-speaking to the list?

Firstly, I got the Leave vote share for each Authority region and census figures on percentage of Welsh speakers and ran a correlation.The two variables were highly negatively correlated: -.40 (Spearman’s correlation). So yes, at first glance the data seem to bear this out.

It seems a bit premature to call it for Yr Iaith Gymraeg yet though, economic disadvantage appears to be a predictor of voting leave too and while Y Fro Gymraeg is not a prosperous area, there are probably fewer pockets of really marked poverty than other areas of Wales. The figure below shows percentage of Welsh speakers on the X-axis and  Leave vote share on the Y-axis. The redder the name of a region, the more areas it has in the most deprived 10% of areas according to the Welsh Index of Multiple Deprivation.


As you can see, the regions with high numbers of Welsh speakers tend towards lower Leave votes, but also tend not to have lots of areas in the most deprived 10%  of regions.

To try and get at this in a more statistical way,  I fitted a regression model to the data predicting Leave vote share using number of areas in the lowest 10% WIMD and saw whether adding in the percentage of Welsh-speakers as a second predictor improved the model – it did. When I did the opposite, seeing if a model that used percentage of Welsh-speakers could be improved by adding in the deprivation data, this didn’t improve the model.

Maybe using the most deprived 10% of area is the wrong measure – it could be that pockets of severe deprivation are less important for explaining voting behaviour than a more diffuse pattern of poverty. I reran the analysis, this time using the proportion of areas that fell into the bottom 50% of areas in the WIMD. This was indeed a better predictor of Leave vote share – .49 as opposed to .35. When I reran the regression models, the model that included both the percentage of Welsh speakers and percentage of areas in the most deprived 50% performed best. Both deprivation and percentage of Welsh speakers are helpful in explaining vote share. Here’s a graph of how vote share (Y-axis) was related to the proportion of areas in the bottom 50%  according to the WIMD (X-axis), this time with the percentage of Welsh speakers reflected by how green the name is. Note that many of the more Welsh-speaking regions are below the line of best fit, suggesting lower levels of support for leave than you would expect based on deprivation data alone.


There remain a few plausible alternative explanations – both Gwynedd and Ceredigion have university towns (although so do Wrexham and Swansea who voted out) and West Wales gets lots of EU funding (although so do the Valleys who voted out). But yes, to conclude, it seems plausible that having a high number of Welsh speakers was associated with lower levels of Leave support, and this wasn’t purely to do with the underlying pattern of poverty in Wales.


P.S. Sorry for the long wait between posts by the way, we had a baby recently!


29 thoughts on “Brexit a’r Iaith Gymraeg

  1. Congrats on the baby!

    I wouldn’t be surprised that there’s a correlation between speaking Welsh and a Remain vote (although I do know a number of Welsh-speakers, including family members, that voted Leave). My explanation tends to be that Welsh speakers are much more likely to come into daily contact with institutions that reproduce Welsh nationalism This could mean that they’re less open to arguments that stress the sovereignty of the UK, and won’t feel as if they’re any more ‘in control’ whether power is at Westminster or Brussels.


    1. As an English immigrant to Wales, I’m keen not to ‘saisplain’ here but the lower salience of UK sovereignty sounds like a plausible explanation to me. I wonder if people complaining that immigrants don’t integrate into local culture plays a bit differently in Y Fro Gymraeg too.


  2. Just one thought, average age of Welsh speakers is much higher in Camarthenshire compared with Gwynedd / Mon, and we know that older people are more likely to vote Leave. Looking at your last diagram, worth noting also that Cardiff is the “youngest” LA (average) in Wales by far. So, I’m sure a model with deprivation levels, ability to speak Welsh, and average age, would give you a very good match!


    1. That’s a really interesting suggestion! I think the general point about age is well known but I hadn’t considered how having an older or younger Welsh speaking population could be important. Based on these data (, it looks like Carmarthenshire has a lot of very young Welsh speakers and a lot of older Welsh speakers, but a gap in the middle…


  3. Can’t it be explained with the influence of Plaid Cyrmu, which is stronger in Welsh-speaking areas and came out strongly for Remain?


    1. That’s another interesting possibility. The swing to Plaid in the Rhondda in May didn’t seem to translate into votes for Remain but I suspect that you’re right that it’s a contributing factor.


      1. Indeed it’s tricky for Plaid because they’re targeting the Valleys for expansion so need to tread carefully on the Brexit front.


  4. Poor analysis. What about Ynys Mon and Sir Gaerfyrddin? Gwynedd and Ceredigion voted remain as a result of their universities and high levels of middle-class English immigration. Ceredigion has a higher proportion of English immigrants than Monmouthshire, the children of Aberystwyth sound like they’re from the Home Counties.

    In places with a strong sense of Welsh identity like Swansea, Neath Port Talbot, RCT and Merthyr thousands of Welsh-speaking patriots voted Leave.


    1. Thanks for your comments – I think the universities are certainly important factors but I’m not sure where I could find data on university employment by Local Authority. Likewise on English immigration. I’d be interested to look into these issues if you know where I could find these data? It would be difficult to disentangle these factors with only the Local Authority level data but I’d certainly like to try.

      I’m currently looking at some data on rates of identification as Welsh and it seems like Leave vote might be higher in areas with high levels of Welsh identification – largely the valleys. So it’s a complicated picture and I’m certainly not trying to claim that voting Leave was unpatriotic. Perhaps if I find time to blog on that soon you’ll find that more persuasive.

      Another commenter made some interesting suggestions about the age of Welsh speakers in Sir Gaerfyrddin – perhaps that’s part of the answer.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Very interesting article, and loving the stats. But shouldn’t we hold back from claiming that Welsh speaking people are more prone to support the European Union until a sample is collected and the Welsh speaking community is actually asked this very question? Anglesey voted Leave as did Camarthenshire, both considered part of Welsh speaking Wales (accepting how problematic that term is). It seems that in the shock of the Leave result, some in the Welsh speaking community are putting their hands up and saying ‘Well at least we voted to remain’. Do those in the Welsh speaking community (including myself in that group) form a discernible political bloc, whether it be party loyalty or support for the EU? I’d need some convincing.


    1. Thanks for your comments. I agree that what I’ve shown here is far from conclusive but I felt like it was a pattern that had occurred to a lot of people and I wanted to see if it seemed to be consistent with the data that I had available. I hope I haven’t struck too certain a tone! I certainly agree with you that Remainers seem to be tempted to tell ourselves comforting stories, and we should be wary of falling into that trap.

      As for Carmarthenshire, another commenter made an interesting point about Welsh speakers being older there, and thus maybe more likely to support Leave. Anglesey is an interesting one – I’ve heard people say that largely Anglophone Holyhead was an important source of votes for Leave there, but we’d certainly need the individual level data you mention to address that.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I am a Plaid Cymru supporting student at Aberystwyth university and I know Gwynedd fairly well. I have anecdotal evidence that comfirms that Welsh speaking areas of Gwynedd such as Bala were more pro-remain than areas anglicised by English in-migration like Barmouth.


      1. In my opinion, the reason why Gwynedd voted remain while other ‘Welsh speaking’ counties such as Anglesey and Carmarthenshire voted leave is that Gwynedd is the only one of these in which Welsh is still a majority mother tongue, at least of those who are school age.
        ‘Interestingly, this new blog below uses estyn reports rather than the census to analyse where in Gwynedd is still Welsh speaking and where is less so:

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your comment! I’d love to get my hands on some ward-level data to look at this. I think Birmingham Council released their’s so it’s certainly possible. I will look at the blogpost that the other responder to your comment posted – looks interesting.


  7. I studied a hypothesis about support for the EU in Catalonia- there is a political theory that the citizens of regions with a strong national identity, and particularly speakers of minority languages find it easier to accept the EU in terms of sovereignty and legitimacy.
    This hypothesis claims that the political loyalty of minority language speakers is used to growing in concentric circles – local, regional, national, then beyond their nation to the state government, and so supporting the EU beyond that is not about questioning legitimacy and sovereignty.


    1. That’s an interesting idea. One of my previous posts showed that Plaid Cymru were the only party to grow their vote share in Assembly elections, compared to Westminster elections, suggesting maybe that Welsh nationalists (who are perhaps more likely to be Welsh speakers) are more invested in devolved democracy than supporters of other parties.


  8. It may be an obvious point but might a less emphatic ukip vote be worth looking at as part of the explanation of the difference between Gwynedd/Ceredigion and Môn/Caerdyrddin/valleys/Swansea


    1. I’d like to look at the link between Assembly/Westminster voting and referendum voting, but the former is aggregated by constituency (and region for the list) and the latter is aggregated by Authority.

      I certainly agree that I would expect UKIP votes and Leave votes to correlate, but this might be a bit of a chicken and egg situation.


  9. The ‘strong Welsh identity’ present among non-Welsh speakers (and, anecdotally from my own experience among lots of Welsh speakers outside Ceredigion, Gwynedd and west Cardiff) does not generally extend to engaging with Welsh-language media, which tended towards Remain during the campaign. Indeed, many who undoubtedly strongly identify as Welsh (regardless of language use) don’t really read or listen to specifically ‘Welsh’ media at all. They read UK papers and were informed by the English thrust of the debate. This must be considered as a factor to explain the failure of Remain to penetrate in the Valleys, north east and south west Wales.


    1. The lack of Welsh media seems like an extremely important factor, both with regards to this referendum and more broadly for our political culture. I think WalesOnline is actually making quite a good stab at being a mass-market Welsh media outlet, but it would be great to have a broader and more varied media.


  10. How about that we actually voted to be part of the European Union unlike our membership of the other Union.

    To people who are well aware of the pressure on and and the disregard for our native language and culture emanating from Westminster then a far more supportive attitude towards smaller nation states from within the EU seemed to us to far more logical that voting for even closer integration with a right wing predominantly centrist English form of Government.

    I think that the fact that so many residents of Wales voted for the UKIP option, which is basically the BNP/EDL/Britain First party slightly disguised, is a disaster for Wales and time is starting to tell that story already.

    Scotland and NI by comparison who have the confidence in their own abilities unlike Wales, will get offered all sorts of sweeteners to remain within the UK; we will get peanuts by comparison; our stupidity is embarrassing and is seen to be so in the European arena and further afield.

    I am for the first time ever ashamed of my country and that takes some doing I can tell you. English Nationalism has crushed us.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Very interesting article. I’ve love to see some actual research done as to how Welsh and English speakers voted, and indeed why. Then we wouldn’t have to rely entirely on correlations, which will always be questionable. My impression, for what it’s worth, as a Welsh speaking Remain campaigner in Gwynedd, is that language was a factor, though of course one of a number, for the reasons that Ifan Jones suggests.

    If the votes had been counted on a constituency basis, then I suspect that Caermarthen East and Dinwfwr might well have voted to Remain. In the event, any potential Remain vote there was probably outweighed by a large Leave vote in Llanelli and the South West of the County, which in some respects have more in common with Swansea and Pembrokeshire respectively.


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